30 Nov 2023
You broke up with your unbelieving boyfriend. You pressed pause on an unhealthy relationship. You confessed your porn addiction to your boss, and now you’re out of a job. You admitted your emotional affair, and not only is your spouse a tornado of emotions, but you’re in excruciating pain from cutting ties with your “secret person.” You decided to leave your church because they’ve wavered on a commitment to God’s truth regarding same-sex marriage. Now you’re discouraged, lonely, and weary about starting over with building Christ-centered, biblically faithful community.
Brother, sister, your obedience is beautiful in God’s sight. He knows how painful it is to honestly face losses which come through his pruning; he removes things from our lives in the process of sanctification.
The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less.
Tim Keller’s sermon on John 15:1–2, The Vinedresser, is full of comfort for you. He addresses the ministry God our Father has as the Master Gardener and how his pruning of us is essential for growth. Our Father examines us—the branches—looking for a few things. Are we abiding in Christ, the true vine? Are we drawing love and life from him or from something else? Are we bearing supernatural fruit, testimony that we’re vitally connected to Christ and his fragrant, fruitful life? Are we stagnant in our faith or resting in circumstances which threaten our devotion to Jesus?
Two verses into this beautiful chapter of Scripture, Jesus says something startling: the Father wounds, cuts, and prunes fruitful, abiding branches! Does he prune to punish? Shame? Sideline from the good life? NO! The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less.
When Loss Equals Gain
Keller says that our Father never cuts or prunes something out of life unless there is a loving purpose behind it. “The skillful eye knows that there are no random strokes of the [Father’s] pruning shears; nothing is cut off that wasn’t a gain to lose because it would be a loss to keep.”
Let those words soak in. The Lord will take his pruning shears and cut things out of our lives, even leafy branches and clusters of tasty grapes we’ve grown fond of. God may take good things, remove not so great things, or outright cut off influences leading us to sin. The purpose in every situation is that we become more like Jesus, bearing more fruit as his life surges, unhindered, through us.
Sometimes good things become ultimate things that distract us from what is best. Friendships, marriages, jobs, ministry opportunities, bank accounts, houses can be good gifts. Good gifts, however, can become more important to us than the Giver. That includes our relationships, use of technology, money, and so much more.
Ever-so-subtly, our focus shifts from Christ to this person, this thing, this feeling. Before we know it, we’re attempting to abide—draw life from, find our meaning in—that gift. We’re in a sinful mess and need rescue! Our Father loves us so much that he will tenderly draw near with his pruning shears to remove things for a time or maybe permanently. He may rearrange our life so that this gift returns to its right place “under the feet” of Jesus (see Eph. 1:22–23).
Turning from sin will mean loss, yet God never initiates the removal of anything in our lives unless he will use it for good—for growth in our lives and glory to his name.
When God’s purposes are mysterious to us, we can find refuge in who he is: a loving, purposeful Father.
No Random Strokes
When I had cancer surgery, I trusted the surgeon to wound me with precision and remove only the diseased tissue. Praise God that the surgery was successful; while my scar reminds me of the pain I endured, I am healthy and cancer free.
Friends, our Father is precise, purposeful, and effective in the surgery he does in our lives. There are no random, haphazard, out-of-his-control acts of pruning. Are you experiencing the Master Gardener’s pruning in:
- A relationship? Perhaps your relational terrain has been plowed and bulldozed, leaving an unfamiliar landscape that seems lonely and barren.
- A “not a big deal” temptation or sin struggle that is now in the light and your life is turned upside down?
- Finances, health, family? These important aspects of life aren’t flourishing anymore but floundering, perhaps failing.
“When You Feel the Steel, Cling to the Vine”
Jesus was cut, wounded, and put to death so that our experiences of pruning are temporary. Our Savior, slain and pierced on the cross for our sins, died and conquered death so that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). When you feel the Father’s pruning, look away from your painful losses and fix your eyes upon Jesus. Grieve, cry, and pour out your heart to God with raw honesty—yet, in your grief, be careful not to push God away. Turning from sin will mean loss, yet he never initiates the removal of anything in our lives unless he will use it for good—for growth in our lives and glory to his name.
When you feel the cost of your obedience, don’t look back! Look to Jesus and cling to him. Jesus is with you in the changed landscape of your life, and he promises not to leave you. “He wounds,” wrote John Newton, “in order to heal, kills that he may make alive, casts down when he designs to raise, brings a death upon our feelings, wishes, and prospects, when he is about to give us the desires of our hearts.”
Father, for any who are walking out a beautiful and costly obedience to you, please pour out your comfort and strength upon them, that they may cling to Jesus by faith—and not turn back to sin.
 Keller, “The Vinedresser,” Jan. 12, 1992. https://gospelinlife.com/downloads/the-vinedresser-5769/, accessed Nov. 16, 2023
 Ibid., Keller.
 John Newton, Letter VII, November 6, 1777, The Works of the Rev. John Newton. … Published by Direction of His Executors. United Kingdom: n.p., 1821, 201.
A version of this article was originally published here: https://women.pcacdm.org/when-loss-comes-hold-on-to-jesus-wisdom-from-the-sermon-i-quote-most.
In the modern age, we are sex saturated. God calls Christians to be in the world but not of the world, but without careful examination and the renewing of our minds, we will ingest falsehoods about sex by default. Some of the most pervasive lies are that sex is necessary for true fulfillment and that we can’t experience intimacy apart from sexual expression. For brothers and sisters in circumstances like unwanted singleness, divorce, or widowhood, this issue is practical; it’s vital that Christians share God’s vision for the unmarried life.
Sex vs. Intimacy: Defined
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines intimacy as “marked by warm friendship developed through long association; suggesting informal warmth or privacy.” A secondary definition states, “engaged in, involving or marked by sex or sexual relations.” The closeness and intimacy that sex can cultivate was God’s idea (Gen. 2:24–25). However, intimacy does not depend on sex. True intimacy can exist in godly friendships; sex and intimacy are not identical.
Even within the church, sex can be spoken of as a peak life experience or a prize for the faithful. It can be explicitly taught or merely implied that marriage is the answer to loneliness and longings for intimacy. To be sure, God gives the gift of marriage to many, in part, as a grace in this life for those who “burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9) and desire sexual intimacy. Considering God’s high calling of faithfulness to one’s spouse as the only God-honoring context for sexual expression, a significant question emerges: Can you have intimacy without sexual expression? What are the implications for singles, widows, and those who will never marry?
What Are You Really Seeking?
When men and women pursue sex outside God’s design, it’s rarely just about sex. We bring our whole selves to everything we do—body, mind, and spirit. Have you ever considered that your longings for sexual expression may be masking your longings for a much more profound intimacy—one only found in God? Have multiple partners, endless pornography pursuits, and the emptiness of solo sex left you feeling numb and empty?
What if the remedy for your longings is not to quell them but to long for something much more extravagant?
What if the remedy for your longings is not to quell them but to long for something much more extravagant? Unmarried Christian, your sexuality points to a greater reality about God’s love for his church. Yes, we’re called to obedience. But don’t settle by living in the “don’ts” of your sexuality as if God has not provided abundantly more than we can imagine. God designed your longings so he can satisfy them—not always with what you desire, but with what he, as the lover of your soul, provides.
The Intimacy That’s Yours in Christ
Many books and sermons about singleness neglect God’s bold and glorious vision for his people, instead majoring on the “don’ts:” Don’t have sex before marriage. Don’t cross boundaries. Don’t covet. Don’t lust. Don’t waste your single years selfishly. Consider these two passages where Jesus speaks of his intimate heart of love toward his people. If you’re in Christ, these words are for you!
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead give him a serpent, or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? (Luke 11:11–12)
Jesus does not say he always gives the gifts we desire. He gives something far better—his Holy Spirit! If you’re in a hard battle in singleness or feel overlooked, you may be thinking, Come on! You mean to tell me that Jesus is supposed to fulfill my longings? I still sleep alone every night. Jesus simply is not real to me in this area of my life. Yet in all the ways you suffer, even in unwanted singleness, loneliness, and temptation, Jesus is compassionate and tender toward you. The lie is that the life, joy, and peace you long for can be found outside God’s design and ultimately outside God himself.
Unbelief is a shape-shifting sin struggle. It tends to hide within other sins and often hides in plain sight.
Psalm 16:4a wisely reminds us that “the sorrows of those who run after other gods will only increase.” This passage puts a sincere question before you today: Do you believe in the good heart of your Father toward you, his beloved child? Unbelief is a shape-shifting sin struggle. It tends to hide within other sins and often hides in plain sight.
If your relational pain, temptation, and disappointment has caused your heart to turn away from God, he invites you today to run to him with your deepest longings, fears, and pain. Psalm 62:8 exhorts us: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (my emphasis).
Relational Intimacy with God
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
Jesus expressly says that he desires to be with his people to show us his glory! Don’t miss the profound riches in these words of Christ. The Holy Lord of all, the God of the universe, desires that you abide with him for all eternity. Believer, his heart is inclined toward you forever, desiring fellowship and oneness with you as his beloved. We see the beautiful image of God’s love in the covenant intimacy of marriage, but it’s only that—an image, a dim reflection. Don’t be deceived. Single Christians are, by no means, missing out on the main thing—God himself!
Both married and single brothers and sisters must look to the ultimate fulfillment of their longings not in the blessings of this life but in heaven (1 Peter 1:13), where Christ is.
Imagine you’re on a road trip to the Grand Canyon. You see a sign that says, “Grand Canyon National Park, 14 miles,” and you pull over. You jump out of your car and take photos of the sign, sitting at its base, marveling. Foolish, right? This is precisely what happens when we focus our hearts and relational pursuits on good gifts apart from God. Marriage, and the relational intimacy it provides, are merely a signpost. Both married and single brothers and sisters must look to the ultimate fulfillment of their longings not in the blessings of this life but in heaven (1 Peter 1:13), where Christ is.
Samuel Rutherford said, “Our little inch of time suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome home to heaven.” Are you longing for home? Me, too. Look to Christ, in whom all the deepest treasures of intimacy, love, and rest are found.
05 Oct 2023
Jonah is a unique prophet—he’s most known for his overarching failings. In their song about Jonah, VeggieTales (a children’s show with vegetables acting out Bible stories) describes him with these lyrics: “Jonah was a prophet (ooh-ooh), but he really never got it (sad but true). . . he did not get the point.” If you haven’t read the book of Jonah in the Bible, I encourage you to read it. We all, as sinners, need to ask ourselves: What is the point Jonah didn’t get?
Jonah, David, and God’s Grace
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:1–4)
How often are we like Jonah, rejecting the glory of God’s loving, gracious mercy and instead shaking our fist at him in anger over his sovereignty? Sexual sin comes from a heart that says, I want it my way, not God’s way—or maybe more accurately, God, how dare your way not be my way? Like Jonah, the single who habitually looks at porn may feel frustrated with God that others are married, and she is not. The married man committing adultery may blame God for not making his wife more loving. The one wrestling with same sex attraction or gender dysphoria is struggling against God’s design for marriage and gender. Have we ever wished even to be dead rather than trust in the ways of the Lord?
Jonah failed to understand that he, as the created one, has no right to decide the outpouring of the Creator’s grace and mercy upon those he made. The point Jonah missed due to his judgmental anger—his demand that God’s will bend to his own—is the beauty and glory of God’s grace for sinners. The sexual sinner who turns to “a gracious God and (One who is) merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (v. 2) finds deep wells of mercy that inspire praise.
The point Jonah missed due to his judgmental anger—his demand that God’s will bend to his own—is the beauty and glory of God’s grace for sinners.
What Jonah missed, David clung to after he was challenged by the prophet Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, Uriah (2 Sam. 11–12). In Psalm 51, David cries to the Lord for mercy and restoration—for grace. In that cry, we see his conviction of sin and his response to the great, undeserved salvation he received from the Lord:
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. (Psalm 51:12–15)
There’s a clear distinction between these two biblical characters. Jonah is miserable because he doesn’t understand God’s grace while David comes to a place of delight in the Lord despite his egregious sins. This contrast between Jonah and David presents two important questions.
- How do you see your sin?
He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)
Like the Pharisee, when we refuse to bring our sins to God for grace, we become judgmental of self and others. We find ourselves hyper-critical because we must fix ourselves and judge others in a way that affirms our false sense of self-correction. In this scenario, God is the captain picking players for his team, salvation is a competition to not be picked last, and being picked last means God wants you to feel the condemnation of knowing everyone else is better than you. This is prideful posturing, not repentance. It misses the true stain of sin and our total inability to fix ourselves.
- How do you see your salvation?
Here is my big spill-the-beans moment—and it’s a reality I wrestle with often. What we do with the concept of salvation will dictate whether there is any joy in our lives. Jonah and the Pharisee ultimately find misery because they value their performance and works above God’s gifts of mercy and grace. As they point the finger of judgment, hatred, and anger at others, three fingers point back at them with the same verdict.
The tax collector could only judge himself, not others, because he rightly saw his sin—causing him to treasure his salvation!
But the tax collector could only judge himself, not others, because he rightly saw his sin—causing him to treasure his salvation! By God’s grace, he had eyes to see his need, and it drove him to repentance. David, with the same humble awareness of his deep sin, found that same repentance and was irresistibly compelled to bring fellow sinners to worship God and share in the joy of his salvation.
Who Do You Want to Be?
Too many hide their sin in the darkness. They become like Jonah and the Pharisee, miserable complainers and self-deceivers, judgmental toward others and God, anxious about the day when their image of having it all together will collapse and everyone will despise them—the same way they despise themselves, deep down. Don’t let this be you, dear friend. Don’t deteriorate and suffer in darkness, afraid of stepping into the light. Instead, like David and the tax collector, see the great opportunity of repentance. Through humility and open confession, they found overflowing mercy, grace, peace, and joy. They also found love for God—displayed in glorious, pleasurable worship—and love for others displayed in honest confession of sin that stirred others to also look to God for salvation.
28 Sep 2023
This month, Ellen Mary Dykas, Harvest USA’s Director of Equipping for Ministry to Women, highlights four minibooks designed to encourage unmarried brothers and sisters in biblically-based, Spirit-inspired sexual integrity.
These minibooks — Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart, What’s Wrong With a Little Porn When You’re Single?, How to Say No When Your Body Says Yes: Finding True Satisfaction, and Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share — are all currently on sale!
You can find them (and more) at the Harvest USA online store. We pray these resources are a blessing to you and your church.
This morning, I again read the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. And as always, I wanted to shout, “David! Get off that roof and cry to God to rescue you from temptation! Don’t let curiosity lead you down a road you ultimately don’t want to travel!” What unfolds in the remainder of 2 Samuel is a sad, sobering, cautionary tale of how curiosity can entice weak people toward foolishness and destruction.
David wasn’t the first person in the Bible to see, take, sin, and attempt to cover it up. Adam and Eve did the same, as did Achan. Read his words and see if you can identify choices you’ve made:
Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” (Joshua 7:19–21)
Achan saw, wanted, took, and tried to hide the evidence. His curiosity and desire sparked temptation, leading to sin, leading to death (James 1:14–16).
Unchecked hearts, hidden motivations, and enticing opportunities so easily lead to the next curious step that may stir desires, unbelief, and sin.
David saw Bathsheba and was curious enough to inquire about her, take her from her home, and (probably) coerce her to have sex with him. Nathan’s parable of a selfish and manipulative man taking a vulnerable ewe lamb implies that this encounter was not consensual. David’s abuse of power—his initiative toward adultery, deception, and sinful scheming that led to murder—started where? In his heart, of course, as he “was walking on the roof of the king’s house,” and “saw from the roof a woman bathing” (2 Sam. 11:2).
Curiosity and Sin: Seeing, Wondering, Wanting, Taking, Hiding
I’ve had my share of seeing and wondering about things that watered my desires to know more, leading to temptation and sinful choices. It can start as simply as a random idea coming to mind and then typing those words in a search bar online. I’ve heard of others who, like Achan, David, and me, allowed unwise curiosity to open the door to temptation’s seduction. In many cases, this leads to entanglement in sin.
- What’s my ex doing now? I’ll just take a quick scan of her social media.
- Anything good in the fridge?
- What’s on that website anyway?!
- I wonder what an LGBTQ+-friendly bar really is? I’ll look it up online.
- What’s the big deal with a quick text? I just want to say hello.
- That new start up is hot. . . my buddy has tripled his investment in three months. How much could I invest if I pulled it out of savings?
- That influencer doesn’t mention Jesus much, but she’s so popular! Maybe I’ll take a listen to see for myself.
- What would that feel like? I’ll just do it for a quick minute. . . that won’t hurt!
Often, curiosity about something or someone starts innocently. We don’t intend to get into an affair, or an addiction, or tangled up in a messy relationship or business dealing. But we see or think something, and—without stopping to check our hearts’ motivation or consider where that ‘innocent’ click, text, or encounter might lead—we pursue and take.
Curiosity is not evil. We must, however, learn how to steward it toward that which honors God and grows love for him in our hearts.
Achan saw a beautiful cloak, David saw a beautiful woman, and I’ve seen advertisements for movies, books, podcasts, ministry conferences, and photos and posts of what other ministry leaders are up to. Unchecked hearts, hidden motivations, and enticing opportunities so easily lead to the next curious step that may stir desires, unbelief, and sin.
Curiosity and Holiness: Beholding Christ
Don’t hear what I’m not saying. Curiosity and the ability to imagine and desire are amazing gifts our Creator has entrusted to us. Consider the sermon, book, podcast interview, or Bible study that further opened your understanding of an aspect of the Christian life, character of God, or beauty of the gospel. Or the question you asked (or received) that led to a conversation which grew a relationship into greater intimacy centered on Jesus. Curiosity about creation—learning about the natural sciences, enjoying music, art, and literature—helps us delight in the great God who made all these things. Curiosity is not evil. We must, however, learn how to steward it toward that which honors God and grows love for him in our hearts.
Consider the five questions below for personal growth and talk to a friend in Christ this week about how to avoid unhelpful curiosity as you cultivate wise wondering.
- How are you tempted toward sin when feeling bored, angry, distressed, or happy?
- What sights, sounds, and sensations tempt you to look away from Christ?
- What circumstances trigger temptation for you to spin the truth, deceive, and manipulate the facts?
- What did you learn from God the last time you saw, took, and hid?
- Do you have one to two people in your life who help you seek, love, and enjoy Jesus? If not, why not? Pray and ask him to provide what you need to establish relationships with spiritual journey companions.
Friends, I doubt that Achan or David realized, when they saw a beautiful part of God’s creation, that their curiosity and desires would lead to the devastation—for generations—that came from them sinfully taking it. Their Escape was near, ready to receive their cries for help and rescue them from sin! Our Savior is near to us today, as well. He promises to not only provide wonderfully satisfying gifts for our Christ-fueled curiosity, but also to rescue us when temptations are hovering behind the doors we curiously prod when our eyes are distracted from him.
20 Jul 2023
“She’s hot; she’s not.”
“I hate his shoes.”
“She has a pretty face, but she’s too tall.”
“I don’t like his hobbies.”
Have you ever looked through a dating app and had these kinds of conversations with a friend? Have you had these thoughts as the glow of your phone illuminates your face late at night? Have you begun to feel like dating apps are controlling you?
According to a 2018 survey, among a sample of 500 Christian singles, 44% were actively using two to five different dating apps simultaneously. Pew Research Center found that three in ten Americans have tried online dating. Among Christian singles, that number soars to 80%!
Consider Your Heart
In Galatians 6:6–10, Paul introduces the concept of reaping and sowing. In agricultural terms, sowing is the planting and careful cultivation of seeds, whereas reaping is the harvesting of the produce from those seeds. In human terms, this can be understood as those things that are borne out of our manner of life. It’s the sense that, over time, our small, daily choices, behaviors, and thoughts grow into a harvest. Paul also mentions the idea that there are ways to sow into the flesh, reaping corruption, and ways to sow into the Spirit, reaping eternal life.
Dating apps can be a means for bringing about Christ-centered marriages. But what are you sowing in your heart with your use of dating apps? All things are God’s servants (Eph. 1:22). How should faithful Christian singles consider this popular means of meeting and intentionally dating?
Six Heart Diagnostics
- Stewardship or Distraction?
How has your engagement with dating apps impacted your time? With many single Christians engaging across multiple platforms, the time it takes to engage should be considered. To be sure, for singles seeking to marry, it may be wise to give your time to pursue dating as an intentional investment. But it’s worth asking—how much time are you investing? Is this something you’ve prayerfully considered, or have you been slinking into a three-hour nightly routine of browsing apps alone?
- Consuming or Serving?
In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that the explosion of choice in our modern world has created more anxiety and paralysis, not greater wellbeing. The growth of online dating has ushered in seemingly endless eligible men or women for you to consider. This can quickly be problematic. Has your engagement on dating apps caused you to become a consumer of others rather than a servant of others? Are you becoming so choosy that you can’t see the hidden beauty and character of the men or women with whom you interact? Have the abundant options on dating apps given you a sense of ever reaching for perfection in a mate, yet never quite finding it? Are you training your mind to make snap judgements based on appearance alone?
- Contentment or Insecurity?
How has engaging dating apps impacted your heart’s contentment in your current state? Is the number of matches, likes, and messages causing you to steep in insecurity? Do you feel grateful for how God made you, or are you increasingly insecure as you seek to get to know people on dating apps? Do you leave apps feeling angry, frustrated, alone, anxious?
- Isolation or Community?
Is anyone journeying with you as you are looking to date, or are you going it alone? Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out from all sound judgment.” Don’t engage with dating apps alone! You need the benefit of wisdom from others who know you and who will help guide you. Dating is an emotional and potentially tumultuous process; you need trusted friends and mentors. Your local church is meant to be a wealth of support and encouragement as you seek to be faithful in all things—even dating apps.
- Pride or Humility?
Man judges by outward appearance, but the Lord judges the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). While outward appearance is indeed a factor in romantic love, how heavily are you weighing it in your dating journey? Are you prizing the things the Lord prizes, such as the hidden character of a gentle and quiet spirit, or are you driven mostly by outward appearance?
- Integrity or Self-Centeredness?
One of the biggest challenges in the dating app world is having to speak honestly about your interest or lack of interest in someone you’ve met. Ghosting (never responding again to someone you no longer wish to get to know) is a common practice, but it communicates great disrespect for other image-bearers. Have you adopted a worldly mindset about how to treat others when you’re dating? Have you regarded anyone according to the flesh? (2 Cor. 5:16.) Can you say you’ve treated others with kindness and regarded them as more important than yourself? (Phil 2:5–7).
If these diagnostic questions have you feeling like your heart is off track, I want to encourage you. St. Augustine of Hippo famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Dating and romance have a way of uncovering the deep longings of our hearts. If you’ve misplaced those longings and sought to secure them in dating, relationships, and people, it’s God’s tender mercy that turns you away from that empty path.
If you’ve been isolated, consider how you might invite one or two others into your dating journey. Pray that the Lord would use dating to help you draw near to him and walk by faith. Consider a break from dating apps altogether if they’ve led you to pursue unholy relationships or unwise choices. Bring your deepest desires before your loving Lord. He knows what you need. He is the answer to your heart’s deepest longings. He is your ever-present, compassionate Savior, and he wants to walk with you today and forever.
Caitlin McCaffrey’s post, “Women Are Struggling Too: The Sobering Statistics and How to Respond,” is challenging. After citing various statistics, Caitlin writes, “Single evangelical women are potentially the demographic most rapidly abandoning a biblical sexual ethic in churches today.” That sentence put a pit in my stomach for two main reasons:
1. The beauty of womanhood. My mom and grandmothers, the wives who’ve brought joy and edification to close friends, the women I serve with at Harvest USA, my girlfriend—I hold these women in high esteem. That deep affection largely hinges on their femininity. Our culture has distorted this word, but God defines it: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised” (Prov. 31:30). Biblical femininity is not bound by culturally established “girly-girl” charm, beauty, or behavior. It is about female image-bearers courageously fearing the Lord in whatever role, place, or season he has placed them. Such virtue deserves praise.
2. Men are partly to blame for our sisters’ struggles regarding sexuality and gender. Harvest USA’s Sexual Sanity for Men warns that “Sexual sin not only emasculates us through robbing us of strength and enslaving our souls, it places us outside God’s design and calling” (32). I asked Caitlin why she thought these single evangelical sisters are likewise “de-feminizing” themselves through sexual sin. Men, we hold a piece of the blame. In our apathy as potential servant leaders, in our captivity to habitual sexual sin, we are a stumbling block to our sisters.
Sisters, I want to give you hope and motivation for remaining steadfast to the Lord. And to my brothers in Christ, how can we better serve the women God has placed in our lives? We can begin by remembering some key truths.
We Are God’s Image-Bearers
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
We have human value because the Creator made us in his image. To be human is to reflect God’s image and therefore proclaim his worship. God establishes male and female. Sister, you are, at your core, human—made to worship God. But God has also chosen you to be a woman. As a woman, you uniquely radiate worship to your Creator. Male and female humanity echo distinct praise to our beautiful Lord.
Brothers, how do you value your sisters in Christ? Do you see women as a commodity whose value is rooted in your sexual or relational self-centered desires? God forbid! These are your co-image bearers. Their value is rooted in the same reality as yours—created in the image of God, established by our Creator to worship him.
We Are Seen and Received
And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that (Jesus) was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. (Luke 7:37–38)
Bask in the unique, tender beauty of this woman’s worship—her devoted courage to go into the lion’s den of judgmental pharisees. What honoring consideration of beauty and value to bring exquisitely expensive perfume to pour upon her glorious God. What a humble, tender, and personal act to lay on Christ her own tears, worshiping him with her emotions and serving her Master with her lips and hair. Look at Christ’s response: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much” (Luke 7:47). This woman was truly seen by Christ. He received her loving act of faith as excellent worship.
Brothers, we live in a culture of double standards. Has hypocrisy invaded our hearts? Do we view our sexual sin as soberly as the sexual sins of women? We all need to go to our Savior with a broken and contrite heart as this woman did, knowing that Christ receives it as a loving act of faith. He is abundantly forgiving. If we have received his forgiveness, how dare we see sister believers as anything other than his beloved children?
We Are Co-Laborers
Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women . . . who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1–3)
Who accompanied Jesus on his mission? The twelve male disciples and some women, who uniquely helped Jesus and the twelve. The worship of the woman washing Jesus’s feet was not a one-off incident or fluke. Women participated throughout the entire unfolding of Christ’s ministry as a vital part of it.
Brothers, are you co-laboring with your sisters in Christ? Are you recognizing your sisters for what they bring to the table as you work in unity to serve the Lord? This passage is meaningful to my heart because dear sisters are the foundation of my financial support here at Harvest USA. I’m a living testament to the necessary value women bring into Kingdom-building efforts.
We Are Called to Serve
(Older women) are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3b–5)
Women were a vital part of Jesus’s ministry and they’re vital to every generation of the church. God is glorified by continual generations of godly women serving as part of his body—part of his bride.
Brothers, when you consider the future of Christianity, do you wonder who will be your church’s pastor or the next generation’s Billy Graham, R. C. Sproul, or John Piper? I encourage you to expand your vision, so it matches Paul’s. Who will be the next generation of godly women? Encourage your sisters with the fact that they are needed, called, and can rise to the occasion by the power of God’s Spirit and the church’s support.
When men and women fear the Lord, it impacts the whole body of Christ. Brothers, let’s open our eyes to our sisters’ struggles with sexual sin and come alongside them as fellow image-bearers, equally forgiven by Christ’s lavish mercy, and co-laborers for his glory.
25 May 2023
This month, Harvest USA Director of Women’s Ministry Caitlin McCaffrey highlights two resources for women. Sexual Faithfulness: Gospel-Infused, Practical Discipleship for Women is available as a free digital download, and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness is now on sale!
We pray these resources are a blessing to you and your church.
This post was written by Harvest USA Women’s Ministry intern YaPing Li.
The single life has brought challenges for me—maybe you too. Suffering and being misunderstood can take different forms for those of us who aren’t married, whether we’ve never been married or are single again due to death or divorce. I planned to be single, but long-term singleness is still a learning curve. I’m lucky because I don’t burn with desire, yet neither am I cold to the beauty of marital fellowship. I can’t explain why, but singleness is God’s plan; he has chosen it for me.
Sometimes, suffering comes through lost opportunities. I feel this sting when I think about something on my bucket list (if heaven doesn’t come first): standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and taking in the spectacular view of God’s designed colors and majesty. I don’t have a lifelong companion to share this joy with—to say, “Do you see it?! Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This is amazing!” I probably won’t have children to share stories like this with, either. At times, this causes my tears to fall.
I know my sorrow will transform into praise. No earthly wonder can compare to Christ’s own face, presence, and loving kindness. Still, life in this world—single or married—has its sorrows. This feeling of loss keeps me asking a question that can only be answered through the Scriptures: Where is my confidence?
God’s Word makes me want to know and pursue God’s goal for my singleness: that I would embrace Jesus and find my confidence in him.
I believe in the all-sufficiency of God’s Word, which enables me to walk through sorrow when it comes, looking to my hope in Jesus. God’s Word makes me want to know and pursue God’s goal for my singleness: that I would embrace Jesus and find my confidence in him.
Jesus really loves us—all of us. God’s ultimate goal for me isn’t that I paint a picture of a single woman living a perfectly holy and happy life, but that I would delight ever more in Christ. While I’m learning daily that his presence is sufficient, my life is not here to prove that living well single is better than a good marriage. Life is not a competition. It’s not about who can glorify and enjoy God most. In Christ, our fruitfulness comes from being faithful to God in the life he gives us, not personal triumph.
In God’s kingdom, the least is most satisfied. How we measure ourselves and others, including the least among us, says a lot about how we live as Christians.
God’s kingdom requires child-like admiration. We’ve all been children. When infants are separated from their parents, they cry, searching for the attentive gaze of their mother or father. They want to see their parents’ faces and be picked up in their loving arms. Their security and joy come from their parents. And when they’re with their parents, they want to stay in their embrace. That’s joy! Like infants desperate for their parents, all believers need the loving presence of God. As infants receive their parents, single men and women receive our Lord Jesus Christ in this world and the world to come. Our heavenly father is never far, and he will embrace us all the way home. Singles are not measured by their unmarried status, their gifts, or their ministry contributions. All are measured by the loving gaze of our Maker, Redeemer, and Advocate.
While I’m learning daily that his presence is sufficient, my life is not here to prove that living well single is better than a good marriage.
I may never travel to the Grand Canyon. But I can still be so overwhelmed by God’s abundant, loving kindness that a thousand Grand Canyons will not compare. And I can still be brought low. Single or married, we will be undone by Jesus Christ and be made into creatures who admire his goodness, kindness, beauty, gentleness, and compassion. All that he is and has will totally undo our worthless pursuits, competition, and ideas of worldly status.
I wonder if the more we embrace Christ, the more fulfilled our lives will be. Hence, the more content we can grow in our sexuality, relationships, and future hopes. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need” (Phil. 4:12).
I have been brought low. I’ve been unfairly denied jobs. I’ve become more comfortable with the “Joy of Missing Out,” learning that many people, though they have good intentions, are busy and forgetful of a single woman. I’ve had chronic migraine headaches, leading others to think I’m antisocial, and have been unable to think about the future while waiting for two biopsy results. I’ve been misunderstood when requesting a third person in the car if a brother gave me a ride and hurt when people I cared for only wanted me as their counselor, not their friend. When Christmas approaches, I dread being asked about my plans—deciding who needs me most, where I will be blessed, and which family to celebrate with to glorify God. Some of these circumstances feel awful, while some are just inconveniences and opportunities to grow in Christ-like wisdom. In all these lowly circumstances, Christ is sufficient to receive my honest lament.
Encouragement When You’re Brought Low in Your Singleness
Maybe your struggles are more secret and difficult to share. Maybe you’ve thought about seeking help in your suffering or have received counsel that didn’t build you up, leaving you wounded. Maybe your suffering is tangled with big or small enchantments with sin and the flesh. I don’t know all your struggles, but Jesus does. And he publicly proclaims you to be his friend; he calls you his own. Christ’s love defends your honor; who dares to despise you when nothing can separate you from his love (Rom. 8:38–39)?
The time is now. Don’t just gaze at Christ from afar—go to him. Draw close to the God who loves you inside and out. Whether single or married, Christ alone is our confidence. Embracing him is our joy.
02 Feb 2023
When our first discipleship workbook, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness, was published in January 2013, I was thankful and expectant. Thankful because producing this resource had been a long, somewhat challenging process and finally, after more than three years of book “pregnancy,” the workbook had been birthed. I waited expectantly to see the response and impact on women’s lives.
One message came in on publishing day from a woman: “You do know, right, that 99% of women in the church will never engage [with] this? Most churches won’t even consider this!”
I admit my response wasn’t, initially, fueled by one drop of compassion. I didn’t wonder what sort of backstory would lead someone to express this. No. Instead, I felt frustrated and angry. I didn’t want balloons and accolades—but perhaps a little encouragement and thankfulness!
Yes, but God rescued me from myself and I sensed his gentle, truthful wisdom. “Ellen, are the one percent worth it? Maybe she’s right. But that still leaves many hurting, gospel-desperate women who have expressed the need for this resource.” My heart changed in that moment.
God’s Stories from God’s Daughters
Praise be to God that the Spirit of comfort and counsel radically flipped my anger and frustration into tears of not just joy, but also tenderness. I’d had so many discipleship conversations with beautiful women who were the humble, needy, one percent.
Now, ten years later, I’ve had the priceless gift of hearing stories from all over the country and world of how God has used Sexual Sanity for Women to help women grow into Christlikeness as they pursued sexual and relational integrity.
From a biblical counselor:
Sexual Sanity for Women has been the most helpful, profound, and influential book I have ever used in women’s programs. For the past four years I have been using it regularly to walk with women of all ages in discipleship, as a chaplain teaching life skills in a shelter, and to my surprise to heal from my own history with sexual brokenness that I never realized permeated into every thought and behavioral pattern of my life. With the grace of the Lord, I have seen this study transform hearts and minds to grasp the beautiful rest, shalom, and freedom that only King Jesus can give. I am deeply appreciative to the Harvest USA Tree Model and the SSFW study for taking a sensitive and incredibly complex topic such as this and making it relatable, reliable, and redemptive. Thank you, Ellen Dykas & Harvest USA for such a wonderful and accessible study!
Valentine Curiel (MA), Counseling Director, Cornerstone Church, Simi Valley, CA
From a former ministry recipient of Harvest USA:
Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness (SSFW) has been a life changing resource for me. I learned what I knew about sexuality through my own experience of sexual abuse, as well as being exposed to my father’s pornography from a young age. On top of that, I attended church and even pursued a Bible and seminary degree with little to no training or discipleship in the area of sexuality from those experiences, nor did I have any meaningful teaching or discipleship on these topics in the church. This ought not to be! By my 20’s I was confused, ashamed, and stuck in deep patterns of relational brokenness, as well as dabbling in my own pornography use. As a woman, I was confronted by silence from the church on these street-level issues that I was facing to an increasing degree. I reached out to Harvest USA as a broken and hopeless woman. I remember saying, “I don’t feel like I am in control of my own life anymore.” When I bought a copy of SSFW, I kept it hidden under my bed, and only read it in secret. Through God’s kindness, this resource was a significant part of how the Lord set me free. Topics like how our past informs our present struggles, temptation, and how to embrace God as our true Father, comforter, and home set me on a totally new trajectory in my Christian life. The Lord has shown his kindness to me in many ways, and I can’t speak of his work in my life without mentioning this life-changing resource.
An Exciting Future for Women’s Ministry
And the woman who sent that message to me on publishing day in 2013? After the Lord comforted and corrected me, I reached out to her to find out why she thought the way she did. It turned out that this dear sister in Christ had shame and painful experiences with the church in her background. She had felt missed, silenced, and utterly un-helped.
Wow. She was herself in the 1% but didn’t know where to find caring, Christ-centered help. Our interchange began a relationship that continues today. In fact, this very dear woman became a faithful financial supporter to me. She became an advocate for Harvest USA to women’s ministry leaders, pastors, and churches—several joined my support team!
Harvest USA is committed to a vision for ministry that includes robust, Christ-centered, gospel-driven discipleship for women. Thank you to every woman who has entrusted your story to our team. Thank you to every woman who has journeyed through SSFW with college students, singles, married women, women in prison, and hurting women forced into shelters. Thank you to every male church leader who has trained others up for this essential work.
Truly—as Jesus regularly and boldly sought, loved, touched, forgave, healed, and set free so many women during his earthly ministry, may the church continue to grow in extending this vital kingdom work to women of all ages.